The London Marathon takes place in April every year and every year people start their training for the event in the first week of January. It’s a perfectly reasonably thing to do, because it gives you almost four full months of running – enough time for even complete beginners to get ready to run 42.2km – while also allowing you to enjoy the festive period without worrying about training.
Before we go on, we should stress that we’re not going to demand you go teetotal this Christmas if you’re running the London Marathon (or another spring marathon), and we’re also not going to suggest you start hammering out 80km weeks in December when everyone else is partying.
What we are going to do, however, is gently suggest a few things you can do this year to make you well prepared to start your full marathon training plan in January. And by “we”, we really mean Steve Vernon, coach and manager of Team New Balance Manchester, and an ex-international cross-country and mountain runner, who we asked for some advice.
What are the main benefits of starting your prep for the London Marathon before January?
“Starting early doesn’t necessarily mean you have to begin your specific marathon training,” says Vernon, “but it does provide the opportunity for you to build some base fitness so that you are in a good position to start in the new year.”
What should marathon runners do in December?
We asked Vernon to break down his advice for December training for different types of runners. First up – people who aren’t running currently and haven’t tackled a marathon before.
“December should be about getting used to running and if you haven’t done any before, this needs to be a really easy build-up of two to three runs a week,” says Vernon.
“It is advisable for most beginners to start with a run/walk. For example, ten one-minute jogs with one minute’s walk between each jog for a total of 20 minutes. After doing this for the first week you could progress to five two-minute jogs with a minute’s walk between them in the second week. By the end of December you should aim to run for 20-30 minutes continuously.”
If you already run once or twice a week but haven’t ever done a marathon, the advice is to focus on increasing the length of your runs in December to build up to the amount of time on your feet demanded by marathon training.
“Start introducing longer runs once a week,” says Vernon. “Depending on your running background you could aim to add one mile [or 1.5km if you prefer] or ten minutes a week. This way you will start the new year with the benefit of having done some longer runs.”
If you’re a regular runner you’ll already be well conditioned to start a marathon training plan – you may even have taken on the distance in the past – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add some specific targets to your December training.
“The elite athletes I coach always start their marathon build-up in good 10K shape so I will often find a race for them to target before they start the specific marathon work,” says Vernon.
“Running a fast 10K leading into the new year will also boost your confidence and make marathon pace seem easy.”
December is traditionally a time of big parties and consuming huge amounts of food – should marathon runners scale their festive cheer back a bit?
“I think moderation and consistency is key! There is nothing wrong with enjoying the Christmas period but if it means missing training and putting on a huge amount of weight it doesn’t put you in an ideal position to start your marathon plan,” says Vernon.
“Plan around the social events so that you can still enjoy them but also fit in training. There are also lots of bugs and illnesses around at Christmas so take precautions to stay in good health.”
Is there any particular type of running you should focus on before January?
“Easy running is fine,” says Vernon. “The marathon is an endurance event and time on your feet is the biggest factor, so steady running and building up the duration of your runs is the most important thing you can do at this stage.”
Races To Sign Up For To Prepare For The London Marathon
Another thing you can consider doing before the end of the year to help get ready for the London Marathon is to sign up for a couple of shorter races in early 2020.
Running other races won’t be able to match the intense demands of a marathon, or the heightened atmosphere of the London Marathon in particular, but it will help you get used to running in a crowd and the race-day experience – no-one believes how long the queues for toilets are before a running event until they witness it first-hand.
The best way to start is with a 5K run, and the best 5K runs to get involved with are parkruns. They’re free, weekly, very relaxed, and there will almost certainly be one pretty close to your home.
For a 10K it’s best to enter an event that takes place in early February. Our top pick for people who live in or around London is the Cancer Research UK London Winter Run, which takes place on Sunday 9th February 2020. You get to run on closed roads in the centre of London – always a treat – and it’s the perfect motivation to get you through the tough, cold first month of training in January.
The key preparatory race is a half marathon, which gives you the chance to practise your race day routine and pacing a run, as well as getting a great idea of how your training is going and what time you might be able to target in the full marathon.
Coach’s 16-week training plans asks you to run a half on 1st March. If you received your London Marathon place in the ballot, a great choice is the Vitality Big Half. It’s run by London Marathon Events and it’s run on some of the actual London route, although you’ll have to bag a charity place because general entries have sold out. If you’re running the London Marathon for a charity then another fundraising effort might be a bit much, but there are other larger-scale options on that day at Newport, Anglesey and Warwick. There’s also the Paris Half Marathon to consider if you fancy leaving these shores.
Other training plans may have you racing a half in mid-March, and if you want the experience of running in a bigger event some fine options include the Surrey Half Marathon (8th March) and Bath Half Marathon (15th March). There are others – Run Britain’s race listings are a great way to survey your options – but it’s worth deciding on your plan and booking your half this week, or you may find your preferred race is sold out by the time you get around to trying to enter.